Assault on UK aid is based on fake news: humanitarian chief David Miliband

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 17:00 GMT

International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband is seen at a refugee camp for Syrians on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

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"The assault on aid represents all the worst aspects of the new populism. It is based on myth not fact"

By Magdalena Mis

LONDON, Feb 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Criticism that Britain is wasting taxpayers' money by spending aid money on flawed projects overseas is based on "fake news" and represents the worst aspects of populism, the head of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity said on Wednesday.

The government, which has stuck to a pledge to allocate 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product to foreign aid, has come under increasing scrutiny in the media and by lawmakers over how it spends its aid budget.

Last year, the right-leaning Mail on Sunday newspaper launched an online petition calling on the British government to scrap the aid target altogether.

It has accused the Department for International Development (DFID) of using UK aid to fund English lessons for North Korean officials, Palestinian "terrorists" and a radio programme for Somalis with tips on how to migrate to Europe.

"...it is disturbing to see the debate about aid spending and the role of DFID fall victim to the virus of Fake News," David Miliband, IRC's president and a former British foreign minister, was due to say in a speech at the University of Oxford later on Wednesday.

"The assault on aid represents all the worst aspects of the new populism. It is based on myth not fact. It blames others for a country's own problems," he was due to say in the speech, a copy of which was seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

DFID, the ministry that manages overseas aid, has rejected the newspaper accusations, saying they misrepresented or inaccurately portrayed projects it supported.

Miliband's prepared speech also took aim at the "myth" that UK aid spending was out of control, by highlighting that at 290 pounds ($361) per person it was less than what the average Briton spends on food they never eat.

He was also expected to address one of the most controversial arguments made by Leave campaigners ahead of Britain's 2016 referendum to quit the European Union - who said the UK sent 350 million pounds a week to the EU which would be better spent on the National Health Service (NHS).

Remain campaigners disputed the figure.

"Just as leaving the EU was trumpeted as a way to raise money for the NHS – money which is now shown to be fictitious – so a raid on the aid budget is offered as a salve for an NHS in crisis," Miliband was due to say.

"Yet the aid budget is one tenth the NHS budget; and the problems of the NHS are not born of largesse in foreign aid."

Miliband was expected to argue that on every measure of impact UK aid money was being well spent, citing recent successes such as the immunisation of 67 million children against preventable diseases last year alone.

He was also expected to highlight the benefits of cash transfers for refugees and displaced people, referring to Lebanon where every dollar delivered in cash generated $2.15 in the local economy.

($1 = 0.8024 pounds)

(Reporting by Magdalena Mis @magdalenamis1; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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